Almost every weekend of my childhood, we all piled into the old Datsun 1200 and drove to the Inner West suburb of Leichhardt, and Leichhardt Oval, to watch the then Balmain Tigers play rugby league. We were 'Westies' from the outer western suburbs of Sydney. Logically my parents should have followed the Parramatta Eels or Penrith Panthers. But for some inexplicable reason they loved the Tigers and supported them passionately.
Mum always packed our food, often including the classy old hot dogs. The frankfurts were kept in a thermos flask to keep them hot, and placed onto the accompanying rolls once we got there.This saved spending a small fortune at the kiosk.We sat in one of the old grandstands. Once the game started my parents were on the edge of their seats. I tuned out. As I've mentioned before, sport bores me.
Luckily, I could bring a book. I was even able to read amongst all the shouting and commotion. But my brother and I never really sat still long. We were off playing. Climbing trees or sliding down the hill, behind the bigger grandstand on sheets of cardboard. We loved it and would return to the grandstand, happily exhausted and putrid. Once I ruined a whole new outfit that Mum had sewn for me. I can't remember the finer details as I was quite young, but Mum still remembers it.
Another time, I remember being at a game of the Tigers against The Rabbitohs. An obnoxious bunnies supporter was sitting behind us. Every second she'd screech "COME ON BUNNIES!!" her shrill voice piercing our eardrums. She'd barely pause to take a breath before she was screeching again.
After annoying us with the come on bunnies chant for the duration of the game, she then commented: "Some people even dye their hair the same colour as their team." A snide reference to my brother and I's red hair. See above.
In those days there were always people smoking in the stands too, which I loathed. There was no choice but to breath in the vile stench of clouds upon clouds of thick cigarette smoke. The smell clung to you and your clothes and hair, even after you'd left the premises.
Dad took the Tigers performance on the field rather seriously. If they weren't playing very well and it looked as if they might lose, he'd start glowering. Then pacing. Then he would decide to leave abruptly before the end of the second half, interrupting our tree climbing, hill sliding fun. We'd be whisked off, sulking, back to the car.
The long drive home would be made in tense silence. Nobody dared to speak or turn the radio on in case he heard the dreaded results. Of course, it often turned out that the Tigers managed to come back during the second half and even win the game after we'd left. If they did actually lose, Dad's grumpy mood continued for several days.
"I'm not buying the paper anymore," he'd announce, not wishing to read the sport reports.
This would then escalate to saying he wasn't going to anymore games or, in fact, supporting them at all anymore. However, the weekend would roll around and we'd inevitably pile into the car and head back down to Leichhardt.
It seems like if footy is in your blood, it's in your blood and can't be helped. Footy fever never really caught on for me. I've tried over the years to go with the old 'if you can't beat em, join em' mentality. This seemed to work out well for my Mum. But I couldn't seem to drum up any interest.
I briefly had a crush on Tigers player Wayne Pearce, but even this devotion couldn't hold my attention for a full game. I did meet him, however, at a function for Dad's work. He shook my hand and I blushed as red as my hair. I was only twelve at the time.
One of the most vivid memories of those weekends, is seeing the Tigers most legendary fan Laurie Nichols in the crowd. He'd be wearing his infamous singlets, his passion and intense love for the team emanating from every pore.
Nobody would dare to say a bad word against the Tigers to this dude. If you did, you would fear for your life. He once allegedly wanted to fight an individual who criticised the team, according to this article. Despite being advised that he should not fight him as the person had a plate in their head, Nichols apparently shot back: "I don't care if he has a full dinner set."
|Laurie Nichols: The Tigers most intense fan.|
Even though his intensity bewildered me, even scared me a little, I certainly remember him all these later. His presence was all a part of the experience of following the Tigers in those times. By the time the Tigers reached the Grand Final in 1988, I was a teenager, so I stayed home.
My parents sadly witnessed their two consecutive Grand Final losses, that year and the following year in 1989. They reported back to me that there were grown men sobbing, something I've never really understood. Proving I'll never be a real footy fan. Supposedly my father wasn't one of them. If he was, he's not admitting it, anyway.
Today, my parents still follow the now Wests Tigers, but don't attend games. Mick and the boys follow the St. George Dragons. I don't follow footy at all. But I do remember those days at Leichhardt Oval.
When the game was over, all the kids were allowed to run onto the field. That part was fun and exhilarating. Of course it's a shame that the enthusiasm I had for such a thing is completely non-existent today. I could certainly benefit from a spot of running!
Whether I like it or loathe it, there is no doubt that all things footy and soccer have certainly been a presence in my life. And so it continues, as I now have three sons. I can never get away from balls.
That last line was so
Linking up with Cathy from The Camera Chronicles for Flashback Friday.
Do you get footy fever? What are your sporting memories?